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Lost in Music. Wednesday February 8, 2017

[To listen to an audio version of this blog please click here:]

It has long been known that music can help people suffering with depression. Even in the bible, in 1 Samuel, 16, when King Saul suffers from "an evil spirit", the young shepherd boy David was brought in to play the lyre to him. Whenever the (dark) spirit came upon Saul, David would take the harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

Others before me have written about the music that inspires them. Most recently Lex wrote about the guitar sound of The Edge from U2.

But I think it is not just music, but the way we listen to that music which makes it most efficacious to relieve our suffering.

It is easy to have music as the background to our tortured thoughts. The power of our mind is such that even the muscular intensity of Wagner can become mere posturing in the corner, and can even fuel the darkness if we are not watchful. We do have to consciously listen. To put it another way, we have to practise mindfulness when we listen. We have to immerse ourselves in the music, so that it drives all else away but itself.

I am lucky enough to have synaesthesia. For those of you who have not come across this term before, it means the condition whereby sensations are experienced simultaneously by more than one sense. For instance, I taste in sound, I smell in texture, and I see music in colour. There are other forms of synaesthesia; for instance, some people experience certain words in taste or colour, so that Wednesday is always yellow.

I have no idea what colour today is. But I can tell you the sound of a single violin is a sinuous line of green light, like an undulating laser beam; that the flute is a soft balloon covered with silvery brown fur – soft as chinchilla; that the clarinet is a smooth and polished shaft of flexible golden wood, the grain showing all along its length.

If I listen to music, really listen – as opposed to using it as soothing background noise while I drive round Cambridge in my Mini, or write, then it can encompass me totally, surrounding me with light and colour and kaleidoscopic shapes. It is a totally sensual experience that reaches deep down and fills my soul, so there is no room for the darkness.

For me it is always classical music; for some reason the colours don't work so well with pop and rock. Different composers and genres give different effects and satisfactions, from the mathematical patterns of Bach's violins, through the bronze and white-gold impact and fire of Listz's piano, to the ocean-wash of Gjeilo's choral works.

Next time you play music, close your eyes and listen; really listen, with all your senses. See what you can see, or taste, or feel. Get carried away by it; get lost in it, and leave your demons behind.

A Moodscope member.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

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Jane Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 4:06am

This is lovely Mary. I'm going to find the right music now to help me to sleep. For some reason one of my all time favourites has come to mind, 'Bright Eyes.'

Another Sally Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 6:14am

Good morning Mary, I hope you are well. What a lovely post. I am fortunate enough to be having a few days away and will have time to just sit and listen. I'm glad you posted early, as I don't have the internet where I'm going.

LP Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 7:54am

Morning Mary,
I hadn't heard of synaethasia and am glad that it brings positive experiences for you. It will be refreshing to listen in such a different way, taking mindfulness to another level!
Thank you! Good wishes to all, LPxx

Lex Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 11:26am

Lost in music... bliss. Fascinated that the positive synaesthesia doesn't work so well for pop and rock. Lovely post, Mary, thank you!

Vickie Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 11:51am

Hi Mary,
Music helps ease my anxiety. It focuses my mind on the rhythm and lyrics and pushes away all other noisy thoughts. Next time I take a "music break", I will listen with all of my senses:)

Hopeful One Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 12:01pm

Hi Mary- yes music does all the things you mention in your blog. Regrettably I do not have the gift of synaesthesia . I do enjoy all kinds of music.But for my trials and tribulations?They seem to melt away when I listen to Schumann's Piano concerto in A minor or Mendelssohn Violin concerto no 1 in G minor.

Maria Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 3:15pm

I am blessed as my youngest son played both piano and violin while growing up. I used to love it when he practiced and often would stop what I was doing to go listen to him. It's been a while since I've listened to classical music but I have Mendelssohn playing in the background right now. Now off to immerse myself :)

Mary Wednesday Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 9:45pm

Mendelsohn. My favourite. Nearly always happy.

The Gardener Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 12:41pm

Vital component of my life, Mary - as I get older I seem to like earlier and earlier music - Monteverdi Libre Vermeil - well known masses and requiems - am I getting morbid? I have a huge range of music to try and calm Mr G - on line, France Musique and Musique Classique super. But I do not think he has a clue what he is listening to - and probably never has - has heard of the 'great' composers - likes 'noisy' stuff, 1812 overture, Tschaik 5 - but if ever I try to get him to choose a disc no go. He likes what I call 'cotton wool' music, Classic FM in UK, with very short exerpts - good in the car. HO, with you on Violin concertos - must be my age - can't now discern Medelssohn, Brahms Bruch and Beethoven - all lovely. Never took to Elgar's cello concerto. Synaesthesia, Mary. I tie where I was when playing a certain piece of music. Travelling on my own through an empty Brittany, on a glorious autumn day, sun roof open, and Kathleen Ferrier, Blow the Wind Southerly. Dour old Dol cathedral, Beethoven's 9th, building and singers - then some bats were flushed out by the lights - almost sci-fi. Our own church, also dour, during an ecumenical mass we had organised - our UK priest's wife is an opera singer, she gave a concert, then during mass sung either St Richard or St Ignacius prayer, can't remember - magic, and the sun poured through the stained glass (one of part of the Bayeux tapestry) - there was total silence, then an explosion of applause, not normal during mass. Local paper next day 'What a beautiful mass'.

Maria Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 3:08pm

I had not heard of Elgar's cello concerto until now. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I started listening to the concerto but it was way too deep to feel this morning. It will have to wait until I can properly experience it.

Jane Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 9:30pm

Ah Elgar. I have a soft spot for his music as he wrote much of it in Malvern, my original home town and on the Malvern Hills. As a young girl I was fortunate to stay at his house, Birchward Hall, where my friend lived.

Mary Wednesday Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 9:44pm

Always love your comments, Gardener. I can almost hear that mass with you. I think I mentioned that, in a recent consultation with a psychiatric nurse, we spent more time discussing early church music than we did my bipolar. Which of the two, after all, is most fascinating? I would recommend you try a bit of Ola Gjeilo. His influences encompass a lot of Gregorian chant as well as more modern composers. Taverner for instance (who, of course, was greatlying influenced by Gregorian chant....)

Sarah Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 12:57pm

I'm a professional musician, and I do see my music by colour! It's fascinating and exciting, and brings things to life. My music, whether playing or teaching, gives me an escape and a chance to change the way I feel and think. Nothing else works the same way.

Mary Wednesday Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 9:37pm

Sarah, you are not alone. Apparently many conductors see music in colour too. "I want more green from the violins!" is what one of my (non-synaesthete) friends remembers. As a viola player, she was at a loss.....

Jul Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 1:21pm

Dear Gardener. Thank you for your nice comment to me yesterday about being unconventional. Julxx

Jul Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 1:52pm

Hello Mary. I didn't mean to hijack your blog when I sent a message to Gardener. Should have used the reply link directly under her comment. I can lose myself in music but it has to be rock preferably played at an open air gig but indoors will do too. I used to like classical music more than I do these days. The sadness of much of it plus the emotion is probably too much for me. Julxx

Mary Wednesday Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 9:35pm

Hmmm. Sadness in both. Joy in both I think. Mendelssohn's Italian symphony is an example of the latter.

Maria Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 3:01pm

Fascinating blog Mary! Oh to be swept away by music! I can imagine music and colors swirling to create a unique masterpiece for you...sounds euphoric. Do you have to pay attention to music to "see" it? Are the colors discordant when listening to music you don't care for? Thank you for a blog that has me listening to classical music this's been a while. Now to immerse myself :)

Mary Wednesday Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 9:28pm

It's always there, Maria. But, like living in an art gallery, sometimes one doesn't "see" the pictures - one is just intent on walking from one side of the gallery to the other.

Brum Mum Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 3:36pm

Enjoyed reading this before work. Thank you. Have you read the novel "Astonishing Splashes of Colour" by Claire Morrall on the subject of synaesthesia? I recommend it.

Mary Wednesday Wed, Feb 8th 2017 @ 9:26pm

Thank you - and no. I will look it up. I recommend "the man who tasted shapes" by Richard Cytowic to understand more about this condition.

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